The 6 March 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Melina Mercouri, who was an emblematic personality of Greek culture, both in Greece and worldwide. She was, above all else, a star. A great film star who enthused audiences wherever she appeared, on and off the screen. Her presence was simultaneously a performance. An Athenian urbanite but with an unexpected grassroots spontaneity, after the fall of the dictatorship she staked a claim in political life, imbuing it with a different aura and imparting to the Ministry of Culture the decisive push that would take it out of the grey zone of bureaucracy. Ever since, Melina and the Ministry of Culture are intrinsically linked in everyone's mind. Today, on the anniversary of her death, we meet to say "Melina, we remember you", with the screening of Stella, which cleared the country's borders to reach the Cannes Festival. And we remember her, too, through the words of her affiliates and collaborators, Manuella Pavlidou Manuela Pavlidou, first of all, and Christoforos Argyropoulos, Manos Zacharias and, Stella Chryssoulaki.
Today's public day of remembrance will be followed by another two events, to be organised in the near future by the Ministry of Culture and Sports, that will refer to Melina and the work she left behind: the Public Regional Theatres (Dipethe) and the Melina Programme.
Melina remains contemporary, as she was the minister who fostered a climate that resonated with the democratic parameters of culture, exemplifying an open spirit of cooperation. She paved inroads for leftist artists and promoted outward relations with European and world culture, exercising herself cultural diplomacy in person. Melina was the person who gave expression to the repressed and oppressed grassroots sensibility, giving prominence to a "progressive popular national patriotic identity", in contrast to the "conservative national bourgeois tradition". She was the first to attempt to democratise culture and expand the public and its cultural horizon. Through her instinct, she managed to coalesce different expectations and demands, a multitude of heterogeneous cultural materials, people, proposals and notions about the arts. She found herself in the Ministry at a time when the leftist cultural tradition of the postwar era was attempting to transform from a protest movement, an ideology and an aesthetics into a cultural policy.
The innovative initiatives for filmmaking, the policy for theatre and the Public Regional Theatres, the Cultural Capital of Europe initiative, the demand for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, the Melina educational programme, are funds on whose institutional and political significance it is worth reflecting on, particularly in relation to the endeavour towards and ways of conceptualising the democratisation of culture, the effort to decentralise and develop culture at a regional level, and the promotion of a unifying process that transcends traditional cultural bipolarities.
In today's context, for progressive thinkers the discussion about the democratisation of culture has shifted to cultural democracy as an essential tenet of the political democracy of contemporary societies, while contemporary culture requires a new architecture of regional policy and development. It is no longer sufficient to achieve the expansion of the public; we need to aim at the in-depth reform of structures, at difference and a participatory mode of engagement, at the revitalisation of the living cells of culture and the networking of figures active in the cultural field. Moreover, we need to work towards the inclusion of those who keep their distance due to discrimination and inequality, that non-public for the sake of which we need to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of culture and the arts. Finally, it is the culture of everyday life which we need to promote, its mindsets, behaviours and attitudes, in order to make a difference.
Melina, 25 years later, we remember you. We can see the connections and it is important that a quarter of a century later these exist, challenging us to reframe the questions anew, under the new circumstances.
Olive Tree Routes
The Restoration of the Acropolis
Conference on the Future of Europe
The return of the Parthenon Marbles
Archaeological Museums & Collections in Greece
Intangible Cultural Heritage
A 365 Day Destination (Narrative)
Archaeological Resources Fund
A 365 Day Destination (English)